Once the final ballots are mailed-in, placed in a drop box or cast in-person for California’s Nov. 8 midterm election, the attention will turn to the results.
But how quickly will those be made public? And will they tell us the outcome of the races right away?
Election officials and experts say the results will arrive in three separate waves, with the first being released shortly after the polls close at 8 p.m. on Nov. 8.
The first wave will consist of results from the early-arriving vote-by-mail ballots, likely the ones that arrived a few days before the election, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.
The early results will show up on the Secretary of State's website. But they won’t necessarily be enough to determine the outcome of close races.
County elections staff are allowed to pre-process mail ballots that arrive in their offices before Election Day.
“They all take advantage of that opportunity to get as many of those ballots processed and signatures verified and envelopes opened and ballots ready to tabulate as they can,” Alexander explained.
Once those steps are complete, counties tally the ballots using high-speed scanning machines. That allows them to disseminate the early, partial results within minutes or seconds, she added.
The second wave of results will be released likely by about 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. on election night, with some published early the next morning. Those will be from ballots cast in-person on election day at voting sites.
After these two batches are published, some candidates with large leads might declare victory. But the outcome of tight races might not be known for days or weeks as the remaining mail ballots arrive at election offices.
In recent years, California has largely shifted away from in-person voting. More than 90% of ballots cast in the state’s June primary, for example, were by mail. Back in 2004, only one-third of the ballots were cast by mail.
Alexander said that the shift to mail ballots offers greater convenience for voters, but also delays results because election staff must spend more time verifying signatures and handlng late-arriving ballots.
“We have this election night tradition of parties and news coverage and excitement,” Alexander said. “That tradition needs to be adjusted because we no longer have election day and election night. We have ballot counting month.”
That month is made longer by the fact that state law requires counties to count all mail ballots that arrive up to seven days after the polls close as long as they are postmarked no later than 8 p.m. on Nov. 8.
There is one thing voters could do in future elections to speed up the results process: Turn in mail ballots earlier, advised Sacramento County elections spokesperson Janna Haynes.
“If you drop your ballot in a drop box or in the mail on election day, it probably will not be processed for two to three days,” she noted.
County election officials must verify results 30 days after the election. The Secretary of State’s office must certify the election eight days later.
To find the voting site nearest you, visit here. All voting locations will be open on election day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Check out CapRadio’s Sacramento Midterm Voter Guide for more information about the Nov. 8 election.
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